Additive manufacturing is the process of creating an object by stacking ultrathin layers of materials on top of one another. This technology, which is 3D printing on a large scale, has the potential to revolutionize the way planes and aircraft parts are made. In fact, the global aircraft MRO market is predicted to expand steadily in part due to the potential of additive manufacturing.

3D Printing in Aerospace

This past year, Airbus, in partnership with Rolls-Royce, revealed plans to build the Trent XWB-97 engine for use in the A350-1000, making it the first aircraft engine containing components created using additive manufacturing. This engine, deemed by Rolls-Royce to be the “most efficient civil aircraft engine,” has an aero engine structure formed through this new manufacturing method. In November, the Airbus A350-1000 flew its first successful test flight, a four-hour 14-minute duration around Toulouse, using this 3D printed piece. But Airbus isn’t the only major manufacturer making waves with this new technology.

Implications for the Future of Production

Over the summer, Boeing, in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, made news for earning a Guinness World Record for the largest, single piece, solid object created using additive manufacturing. The piece, a 777x wing trim tool used for creating the wings of the next generation of 777 planes, was “printed” in a mere 30 hours. This is in vast contrast to the three-month average it takes to create this tool using traditional manufacturing methods. The incredible reduction in time this process took has massive implications for an industry with tight timelines and that, in recent years, has been plagued by the fallout from manufacturing delays.

Beyond scheduling, additive manufacturing also has incredible environmental implications. The process of 3D printing can be very resource efficient, utilizing only the material needed for a particular part. This contrasts with traditional manufacturing, in which even the leanest of facilities creates waste in the form of leftover and unused materials. Additionally, additive manufacturing allows for smaller production orders. As Matthew Timms of World Finance explains, “Whereas the traditional supply chain relies on the efficiencies of mass production and requires a high volume of assembly workers, additive manufacturing needs little more than the necessary raw material to fulfil any one order and the necessary blueprint to produce it.”

Additive Manufacturing and the Supply Chain

Additive manufacturing is another incoming technology with amazing implications for all sectors of the aerospace supply chain. With on-site 3D printers, suppliers can create highly customized aircraft parts with much less waste of time and resources. The speed at which these parts can be manufactured in this way also allows for less overstock when creating these customized pieces. Additive manufacturing also has the potential to create a digital supply chain that offers files to manufacturers rather than physical items, helping to alleviate disruptions in the chain. And, as manufacturers and airlines adapt to absorb new technologies like 3D printing, Kapco Global will continue to do the same.



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